Sat 16 Oct 2010
If you are bored enough to follow the cable or evening news, the top stories these days are all about politics. At this point we are all suffering from a Tea Party hangover, candidates who make ads claiming they are not witches or Nazi sympathizers, conspiracy theories of foreign money buying congress, and the latest notes inscribed on Sarah Palin’s million-dollar hands. It is as though the media has outsourced its integrity, what little it ever had in the broad historical sweep of journalism in this country. I remember an old saying in the days when people actually thought about peace: what if they started a war and nobody came? Well, now it seems that the mantra is what if a war is going on and no one cares. The two ongoing wars started during the Bush years are falling off the radar, as two recent polls have voiced:
In a nationwide New York Times/CBS News poll conducted last month, 60 percent of Americans said that the economy or jobs were the most important problems facing the country. A mere 3 percent mentioned Afghanistan or the war.
A Pew poll earlier this month found that 23 percent of Americans said they were following the situation in Afghanistan very closely, far fewer than the 43 percent who were following the condition of the economy very closely.
When an ABC News/Washington Post poll released in early September directly asked how important a number of issues would be in deciding how to vote for Congress in November, the economy, health care and the budget deficit were all rated as very important or the single most important issue more often than the war was.
A few major international events may jolt the news cycle, such as the recent mine disaster in Chile or a few brief moments for destructive flooding in Pakistan, but the focus these days is on political punditry and who else has posed naked for GQ. One silver lining in all of this is that the “9/11 mosque” is no longer 24/7 on Fox News. Indeed the same media talking heads once asking where the money was coming from for an Islamic center in Manhattan that had as yet no funding are now braying that the Chamber of Commerce has a right to spend millions on advertising without disclosing who is actually paying for such ads. But, where the hell did the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan go? Did we win already and then the media forgot to tell us? Or did we lose and they were paid not to bring the bad news?
I mean this literally, because in 2008 only 59% of respondents in a Pew poll said they believed in a literal hell. This was a drop from 71% just seven years earlier. At the same time, ever the optimistic American spirit, some 74% were pretty sure in 2008 about a real heaven. Still, far more people believe in a literal hell than are currently paying attention to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, both of which remain hell on earth for those fighting in them.
We probably do not need a Pew poll to prove that most everyone would agree that “war is hell,” as General Sherman (who surely knew how to make life hell for the people he fought) said. But if belief in hell is subsiding at least a little bit, even in the Bible Belt, then perhaps the reason for not thinking about our current (and perhaps future) wars is that we no longer want to think about unpleasant things, unless they are smeared with political propaganda. I can certainly sympathize with relegating a literal hell, an incendiary Lake of Fire and all other eternally damned scenarios to the realm of opiate-induced fiction; there sure is enough hellish behavior on earth without imagining it into an unknowable future. But Americans are still fighting and getting killed at an increasing casualty rate in Afghanistan. Americans are still wounded every day. Iraqis and Afghans are also killed and wounded everyday. And the only winner in all of this real hell is the voice advocating terrorism and yet more bloodshed. Hell may be wishful thinking but World of Warcraft is far too real for politics to be more important.
Daniel Martin Varisco
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